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Sarah Sheets Cook discusses interdisciplinary education

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VOL: 98, ISSUE: 41, PAGE NO: 29

Sarah Sheets Cook, MEd, RNC, DPNAP, is vice-dean and the Dorothy M. Rogers professor of clinical nursing, Columbia University School for Nursing, New York, USA

This week's opening clinical article (p30) sets out the US perspective on interdisciplinary education for health care professionals.

This week's opening clinical article (p30) sets out the US perspective on interdisciplinary education for health care professionals.

The subject of interdisciplinary education - the joint teaching of health care professionals who will learn and practise together in classes that foster and promote interdisciplinary collaboration - stimulates one of two responses: 'How exciting, let's try it' or 'Been there, done that.'

So, on the one hand, the excitement of possibility can be a great motivating force for the uninitiated, prompting them into making use of a wide range of educational and professional resources. On the other hand, for those who have implemented well-planned and useful projects that should have worked but did not, the fatigue from trying to overcome the status quo can be disillusioning.

There has to be a better way. Without doubt, it is vital to try out more carefully planned and structured educational programmes to build on previous successes and avoid, if possible, the pitfalls earlier projects have fallen into. It is also vital to evaluate these projects to assess the learning outcomes they have achieved.

We need to ask the hard question: does the interdisciplinary teaching of health care students really foster the positive attitudes and practices of collaboration that we think it does? We also need to address a more difficult question: which kind of collaborative practice produces the best outcomes for patients?

Some of us might not like the answer. This is due to a number of factors not least of which is the persisting culture of traditionalism and maintaining the status quo in health care. There is also the fact that the status and privileges enjoyed by doctors are not the same as those accorded other health care professionals, a factor that can sabotage the implementation of full interdisciplinary collaboration.

The 30-year experience of introducing interdisciplinary education in the USA is useful for educators to consider in the UK. The problems may be pre-empted and the successes duplicated.

The health of all people, whoever they are and wherever they are, deserves the highest quality, evidence-based, error-free and cost-effective care possible. Achieving this goal requires the collaborative contribution of all health care professionals. We need to get on with it - by applying new solutions - and not continuing to recycle the old ones.

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